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Hands on strategy
A chain mail beauty
Story by Jessica Franzene
The memories are twofold. You remember who sat around the table (or the floor of the rec room) with you, passing the chips and dip and the 12-sided die. You remember the one guy who took it all a bit too seriously and nearly wept with rage when his half-elf mage was killed by orcs. The guy who didn't take it seriously enough and got kicked out for mocking the Dungeon Master when he dozed off despite massive infusions of Dr. Pepper.
You remember the adventure: it was something about a dragon's lair, laden with treasure. You had a vorpal sword, and a potion of something or other. Your strength was high but your intelligence was low. You and your sworn companions fought, labored and won against all odds.
And (if this was in the 80s) you probably made your mother worry that you were dabbling in the dark arts.
What you were really doing was improving your problem-solving skills, cooperating, learning tolerance, sharpening your memory, building your self esteem, unleashing your creativity and having a hell of a lot of fun.
Dungeons and Dragons was, and is, only a game. But its legacy - what sets it apart from the games that came before it - is its emphasis on creativity.
And for that, we have its creator to thank.
A Lake Geneva resident for most of his life, Gary Gygax harnessed his passion for strategic games and his vivid imagination to set the gold standard for role-playing games. With co-creator Dave Arneson, Gygax conjured a world filled with magic, legends and mystical creatures, some steeped in mythology and fantasy literature, and some entirely of his own invention. Then he created the rules to live by in this world.
The rest has always been up to the players' imaginations. And that's probably the number-one reason that Dungeons and Dragons has had such a worldwide influence. Millions of people still play the old-school versions of D&D, even though it has spawned scores of role-playing games and inspired Internet spinoffs on the theme.
As they sit around a table with pen and paper and a handful of dice, D&D gamers slay dragons, plunder treasure and save the world. It's a low-tech way of meeting these goals, but they get the job done, through face-to-face communication. Compromise and trust. Teamwork and camaraderie. Creativity and fun. That's Gary Gygax's true legacy.
In 2008, when Gary Gygax passed away at age 69, his children asked family and friends to gather and honor his life by doing what he loved best: play games. The 100 guests shared their memories of Gary and marked the influence that gaming had on their lives.
It was a microcosm of the sentiments expressed by thousands worldwide upon the news of Gygax's death.
"I can speak for all of us when I say that we we deeply moved by the thousands of people who emailed and posted statements on the Internet about how my dad positively influenced their lives," Gygax's son Luke said. "People told of lifelong friendships that started through playing Dungeons and Dragons, or that they learned to overcome learning disabilities in order to read my dad's books because they enjoyed the game so much.
"There of hundreds of such stories, and all these people shared a little bit of our loss. I thought that it would be appropriate to hold a public gathering after his funeral at the American Legion Hall, the site of several early gaming conventions, including Gen Con...We had such a great time that we decided to make it an annual celebration to honor the memory of my dad," he said.
Now Gary Con is in its second year - and it's growing. But even with the 200-plus attendees that organizers expect, the event remains true to its original purpose.
"We are not looking to make Gary Con a huge event like Gen Con," Luke said. "It is meant to be a more intimate event, reminiscent of the formative years of the gaming industry. Gary Con is a gathering of family and friends - that's the spirit of the event."
The three days of gaming at the Lodge at Geneva Ridge will include visits from "gaming's old guard," Luke said. Open gaming will be welcome, but visitors can also choose from a variety of scheduled games, hosted by the likes of Frank Mentzer, Rob Kuntz, Jim Ward, Tim Kask and Mike Carr. These game authors and designers were part of the formative years of role-playing games - and that's what will give Gary Con a classic gaming atmosphere.
"It's modeled after the conventions I went to as a child," Luke said. "There's a definite 'old-school' bias to the featured games."
The schedule will include Original Dungeons and Dragons, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, classic miniatures games such as Circus Maximus, Seige of Bodenburg, Chainmail and more. Along with the classics, gamers are encouraged to try less familiar offerings - and there's something for every skill level.
"Most of the people tend to be experienced gamers and many have an expert knowledge of some game systems," Luke said. "Gamers are generally a friendly group and most are happy to teach a newbie how to play.
"And who better to learn from than the group assembled at Gary Con?"
That group will run the gamut from young teens to people in their 60s, Luke said. "Several guys have discussed the possibility of bringing their families along. So there may be an upswing in the number of women and youth gamers."
Many of the participants are also event volunteers. "There are some amazing folks who help make Gary Con possible," Luke said. "No one receives any wages for their time." (The event is nonprofit)
"My brothers, sisters and many longtime family friends helped set up and run Gary Con last year, Their assistance in the event was critical, and will be again this year.
"Gary Con is special because of all the folks that travel to Lake Geneva and run games in honor or my dad's memory," he said. "I truly appreciate each and every one of them."
It's probably one of the most misunderstood - and even maligned - games in the world. But the premise of Gary Gygax's Dungeons and Dragons is simple:
1) Who are you?
2) What do you want out of life?
3) How are you going to accomplish it?
Players can create characters, selecting race (human, dwarf or elf, for example), occupation (such as fighter or magician) and moral alignment (i.e., good, neutral, evil or a combination thereof). Other character details are fleshed out via "ability scores" including strength, dexterity, wisdom and charisma. These scores dictate how skillfully the characters will negotiate challenges; for example, a character with low charisma will have little success at schmoozing (unless they know a Charm Spell).
After the characters are created, players name them and make up their histories. Then they are equipped with weapons and items with magical powers (i.e., potions of healing, cloaks of invisibility, shields of blinding). Your Dungeon Master (the person running the game) will control the supply process - some allow players to purchase from a list and some randomly allot the goodies with the roll of a many-sided die. (There is a lot of probability math in D&D but it's mostly the DM's responsiblity, so don't let that stop you. You'll be rolling the dice to see how successful your attacks are, how badly you are wounded, how effective your magical potions are. If your DM is at all fun, you also will roll to see if the hottie at the Thirsty Gargoyle Pub is falling for your line.)
So you've created an elven mage named Trian with high dexterity, a weak constitution and a cloak of invisibility; now what?
This is where your DM really matters. A good DM will have a great imagination, a high IQ and a good sense of humor. (No doubt this is a direct result of the game being created by a person with a great imagination, a high IQ and a good sense of humor, according to everything I've ever read or heard about Gary Gygax.) Your DM creates the world in which your characters move, and narrates the storyline: "As your group walks through the dungeon in search of the treasure trove, you notice a door to the left. There is a heavy padlock on it." One of your companions has an excellent dexterity rating and a lockpicking kit, so your group could probably get it open ... but "There's a reeeallly bad smell coming from behind the door. Do you try to pick the lock?" If you do, the DM will have the lockpicker roll a die to determine his/her success.
Behind the door? Could be a fuming dragon. Might be an angry hoard of unwashed orcs. Or a Mace of Smiting and someone's abandoned liverwurst sandwich. Only the DM knows for sure. And so it goes: each step takes you further into the adventure and gives you more experience, and each decision you make has a cumulative effect on your fate. There's no "win," per se - you just keep on keeping on.
Just like real life. But with Spectral Hounds.
Friends, family and fans of role-playing games spent a weekend at The Lodge at Geneva Ridge, gaming, reminiscing and paying homage to Gygax, the creator of Dungeons and Dragons.
The 250 attendees, some of whom traveled thousands of miles, played board, miniature and role-paying games while enjoying each other's company. Worlds were saved, villains were defeated and bad puns were told...and all in the name of Gygax, who was never far from anyone's mind during the event.
Those who met him exchanged stories and those who only knew him through their Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks rolled the dice and wore their Gary Con t-shirts with pride.
Members of the Gygax family, along with a band of hardworking volunteers, coordinated the event, which reflected the spirit of early Gen-Cons, the convention that Gary started in the late 1960s.
With 148 people pre-registered, indications were good that Gary Con II would be well-attended. By Friday afternoon, more than three dozen people had registered as walk-ins, with more streaming in every hour. But many of them did not stay people long. They chose a table, grabbed a character sheet, and transformed themselves into elf-clerics, or paladins - or troll bait.
But one table remained empty, except for a small collection of memorabilia. Gary Gygax's Hawaiian shirt hung from the empty chair that faced the table scattered with books, an ashtray, birdwatching paraphernalia and other indications that the man was present in spirit.
A tribute to Gary Gygax
"It's Tokyo... your capital is gone."
"Eh, we needed a change anyway"
(Overheard during Tom Wham's Aliens Are Arriving game session)
"Basically, gaming is just a way to
spend time with your friends while creating
mayhem and then restoring order to the universe" -
Gamers pack up for the day
"They're miniatures, but there's
nothing small about the time frame
it takes to set these guys up" -
"I didn't start gaming until I was 41.
Everybody sucked me in"
A young Luke Skywalker
takes a snack break
The brand for Gary Con
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